PrintThen and Now: Canada’s Surge in Deadly Fat

Belly fat is on the rise, according to new Canadian Health Report.

In a timely article, Statistics Canada reported findings that abdominal obesity and metabolic risk in Canadians have increased substantially between 1981 and 2009. Waistlines are on an incline in Canada, even in individuals with a normal weight.

Trimming down the discussion of obesity to visceral fat, or the sub-abdominal fat that surrounds the internal organs and contributes to chronic disease, the research confirms that it has risen over the last 28 years.

The standard for classifying healthy body size has historically been BMI (body mass index), a comparison of weight to height. Emphasis has been shifting: first focusing on body weight, then from body fat to abdominal obesity, and now researchers are sub-dividing abdominal obesity to center in on visceral fat—the true risk depot of body fatness. These researchers, in accord with Health Canada, integrated measures of waist circumference, waist-to-hip ratio, and waist-to height ratios with BMI data to determine the metabolic risk of a growing population.

Greater waist circumference is linked to higher amounts of visceral fat. It is this deadliest fat that has formed the strongest link to impaired blood sugar regulation, abnormal blood lipids, cardiovascular risk, and high fat in the liver. In other words, more mass around the middle serves as a warning sign for serious metabolic abnormalities.

The authors explain that BMI is not specific, therefore a variety of methods are required to truly identify health risk. Someone with a normal BMI may still have too much fat around their midline, just as someone that is categorized as overweight may have a very small amount of fat in their abdomen—it may even be high muscle mass that is tipping the scale. BMI is categorized as underweight, normal, overweight, obese and up through obese class III—a broad range.

From 1981 to 2009 the numbers of Canadian men with a normal BMI dropped from 46.3 percent to 30.5 percent. Women with a normal BMI decreased from 62.2 percent to 44.7 percent. While the men that still remain in the normal weight categories did not have a change in risk, the risk of women at a normal weight in 2009 rose three-fold (about a 4 centimeter increase around the waist) compared to the normal weight women in 1981.

Changes in abdominal obesity were greatest in the people already defined in the highest categories of obesity by BMI. The metabolic risk of overweight men increased from 49 percent to 62 percent in 2009, and the proportion of risk within overweight women sky-rocketed from 17 percent to 54 percent. The waist-to-hip ratio more than doubled in overweight women now, compared to the normal weight women then. Obese men with high abdominal fat rose from 90 to 96 percent, and abdominal obesity in obese women jumped to 75 percent from 48 percent recorded in 1981.

Perhaps the most startling aspect of this report is not that people have gotten bigger, but that more body fat is going toward the mid-section. The authors touch upon this riddle, explaining that, “A shift among normal-weight women meant that a higher percentage of them had waist circumferences that put them in the increased and high-risk ranges.” While risk has increased across both sexes and all BMI categories, the surging threat is not as great in normal-weight men.

Abdominal obesity is perhaps the most detrimental, but also the most readily released fat source in the body. More than making clothes a little snug, abdominal fat is a precursor for the deadly visceral fat. Wreaking havoc on the pancreas, the kidneys, and the liver, centered adiposity sets the stage for high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and high blood sugar.

Diet and exercise are the most effective ways to bust this bulge. As mentioned in the HBO feature, The Weight of the Nation, calorie reduction will eliminate almost one-fourth of the fat deposits in the liver within the first two days. This problem by no means has a quick fix, but research shows that the signs of improvement can come about relatively quickly.

Consuming adequate protein, especially from high quality sources like the whey protein found in IsaLean Shakes and Bars, can help tuck the tummy by promoting muscle synthesis and increase resting metabolism. Pairing with high protein, a high fiber snack is ideal for fighting the misfortunes of visceral fat. Combating the concerns for cardiovascular risk, fiber binds fat in the intestine and helps to clear it from the blood stream.

Maintaining a healthy body weight is no longer a simple case of careful indulgence. Bringing conscious consideration to every meal is necessary to fight all of the factors driving up the pant sizes in the population. Stress, sedentary lifestyle, and diet have created a perfect storm for energy imbalance. Abdominal obesity is not an unsolvable problem. Combining a diet and lifestyle plan that offers nutrient dense, high protein, and low calorie options will kick start the journey to slim down. Finally people are paying attention to the problem, now is the time to pay attention to our food.

Reference: Shields M et al. Measures of abdominal obesity within body mass index categories, 1981 and 2007-2009. Health Reports 2012; 23:2.